The nuts and bolts of acquiringa scholarship for US Universities

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By Shilpa Phairembam Weiss

Many Manipuri students have reached out to me regarding their interest in pursuing higher studies in the USA. The first question always is about how to acquirea scholarship. I am writing this article becauseI have attaineda master’s degree in Health Administration from the University of Missouri and I have been there, walked through the same road, and had many of the same questions on my mind.Today I would like to shed some light on this particular topic.

For international students finding a scholarship that covers all of the college expenses would be a huge step toward financing for their education. Financing higher education is a major concern for parents and students alike.There are hundreds of scholarships available for international students from a wide variety of sourcesthat will fund some or all of your studies. For information on specific scholarships visit this website: http://www.internationalstudent.com/scholarships/search/

Contact your school’s financial aid office

To determine whether or not you have a chance to get a scholarship your first step would be to contact your university’s financial aid office. Contact them as soon as you have picked out the universityyou wish to attendwhile you are still living in India. Most universities offer scholarship programs specifically for international students attending the institution. Do your homework. Go online and check out your university’s financial aid website or call or email the office if you can not find what you are looking for.

Are you eligible for a scholarship?

Eligibility for a scholarship depends entirely on the scholarship; there is no general rule on whether you are eligible for a scholarship. Some scholarships require students to have a certain graduate record examination (GRE) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score or some may assess your Grade Point Average (GPA). Some depend on the funding availability. Some will look for a combination of academic excellence and proven leadership skills evidenced by the work you have done in your past. Some universities will offer only partial tuition fee and some universities will cover full tuition costs. You will need to do your own research to see if you are eligible for a scholarship. It can be confusing, but remember that college admissions officers and financial aid experts are there to help you find as much money as you qualify for.

How to increase your chances in getting a scholarship

Plan early: Plan at least one year in advance for your education abroad. It is highly recommended for parents to get involved in making decision for their children’s education. Parents and the studentmust research universities, find the right school, calculate the total cost of attending the school, and explore options for financial assistance that might be available. The further in advance you prepare the better your chances to understand the full picture of US education.

Academic excellence and high test scores: As one would expect, universities prefer students who haveoutstanding academic background. To boost your chances to get a scholarship, you need to boost your academic grades and your tests (GRE/GMAT, ACT/SAT, and TOEFL/IELTS)scores. Try to get a GPA of 3.5 and above. The higher the better. If you can get a 3.8 and higher GPA, then it is best.So, work hard and get good scores.

Volunteer Experience:Community service and volunteer work are great things to include on college admissions and scholarship applications.  This is especially true if you don’t have a lot of paid job experience. There are multitude of benefits that volunteer experience can offer. Long story short, if you’re one of a handfulof students competing for a scholarship and you have similar academic credentials then volunteer experience can help set you apart. It demonstrates commitment in outside interests and support of community which is valued in America. I strongly encourage students to start volunteering.

Participation in extra-curricular activities: Grab every opportunity available during your college life. Participate in technical events, debates, paperand poster presentations. The more you participate the more chances of getting prizes or awards. These achievements are worth putting in your resume. Become a member of some institutions or groups that are related to your chosen field of study. This will exhibit your leadership and communication skills.Participate in research programs. Work with a researcher and publish a paper. This will indicate your commitment to your work.

Work experience: Having work experience is valuable. It could be working or volunteering in a company. Even if the work is outside of the scope of your field of study it demonstrates maturity and real world experience. The knowledge and skills you have gained through working will help you in building a strong statement of purpose letter.

Strong Personal Statement: There’s no doubt admission officers will look at your application holistically. Your qualifications, personal statement, academic references and grades will all be factored into the decision. If it is a course that requires an entry test then your test scores will come into the equation too. However, your personal statement is your big opportunity to demonstrate your enthusiasm, potential and suitability. The more competitive the course is, the more likely your personal statement could be the deciding factor, especially when it comes down to two candidates with very similar academic achievements. Some universities will hold interviews, but for those who do not interview students, the personal statement may be your only chance to speak directly to the admissions tutor and demonstrate your ability and interest in the subject. For this reason it’s important you prepare a statement that’s enthusiastic, relevant and honest. Not only will a great personal statement help you in getting a seat in the university but also a consideration in getting a scholarship.

Although I have made somerecommendations above, I want to let you know that there are multiple ways of getting financial assistance in US universities. Once you’ve started your classes, you can actually speak in person with your professor and show your interest in assisting in their research work and get paid for your work and time. This is called Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA). You can also assist teachers and work as a Teaching Assistant and get your tuition fees covered and get paid. This is called Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA). Or, you can work part-time in any places available on your campus. Remember that if your visa status is F1 youare restricted to work within the specific university or at places affiliated to the university.

If you have any questions and want to learn more about education in US, there are resources available on NAMA’s website http://www.namaonline.org/Education.aspx. Go to ‘resources’ in the website and find the information under ‘education’.

About the writer: Shilpa Phairembam Weiss is a Masters of Health Administration graduate from University of Missouri – Columbia. After her graduation, she worked as an Administrative and Continuous Improvement intern at Cleveland Clinic, a top-tier and a world renowned healthcare organization in America. Currently, she is exploring the Health Information Technology side of the healthcare by working as anOperations Analyst at Missouri Health Connection. She is the General Secretary of North American Manipur Association (NAMA) and she has advised several Manipuri students regarding higher studies in the USA.

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